Research Insights

What approach do companies use to come up with new topics and what are the issues involved?

It was possible to work out with practitioners from innovation areas that companies usually use a stage gate process to run innovation projects in the company.

For innovations that are not classified in the incremental spectrum, they usually use adapted variants of innovation processes. These innovation processes are very often preceded by trend monitoring. Trend monitoring is intended to make the corporate strategy resilient to change, to protect current corporate offerings from disruption and to uncover new market potential. The results of trend monitoring are incorporated into innovation workshops as incentives for future innovation projects.

Here it could be worked out that customer needs can be integrated only very heavily into such a process, since by a classical user search usually no customer needs relevant for the future can be discovered. The second part of the thesis therefore explored the question of how customer needs can be integrated into a trend-based innovation process.

How can customer needs be integrated into a trend-based innovation process?

Particularly in forward-looking projects, it is difficult to integrate customer needs into the innovation process. In classic user research, one encounters the problem that customers are usually unable to detach themselves from the manufacturer's current offerings. (cf. Lüthje, 2007, p.48) This phenomenon is also described as "functional fixedness".

The lead user method developed by Eric von Hippel was considered to be one solution to this problem. Lead users are visionary and innovative customers who, at an early stage, exhibit a problem structure or perception typical of a larger customer base. (cf. Granig, 2015, p.96, quoted from Schneider 2002, p. 137)

Building on the lead user method, it was found in interviews that the use of this method was known to only a few. This can be attributed to the high time investment (4 months, 4 people, 20 hours per week) of the method. (Cf. Kaulartz & Hippel, 2019, p.2) The digital application presented by Kaulartz &Hippel 2019 was then used as a basis for solving the problem. Based on the application of the method, it was found that by analyzing user-generated content it is possible on the one hand to uncover relevant customer needs and on the other hand to understand how a trend is adapted by a user group. We see the digital lead user method as a possible solution to the posed question.



In tests with practicing persons from the innovation sector, it was found that the method does uncover customer needs, but that these are usually already known to companies in their own market. The application to understand a trend, to explore a new market and to recognize disruption could however be confirmed in the context of the thesis. A trend-based innovation process cannot be replaced by this method, but the method can be seen as a further source to come to innovation topics. In the present work the Lead user method was arranged into an innovation process. Starting from a trend observation, it is supposed to discover relevant topics. These topics can then be processed and used in innovation workshops to create customer proximity.

Get Started

We see digital lead user analysis as a further source of innovation. In addition to market analyses, technology scouting, and innovation workshops, the digital lead user analysis can be used to find customer-oriented topics for trendbased projects.


Enclosed we offer 13 worksheets that completely accompany one within the flow. These can be used either digitally in Figma, or printed out analog.


  • 12 Workshopsheets


We offer a Github repository where the code base for the digital lead user analysis with Natural Language Processing is stored, as well as the code for the tools and a guide for scrapping.


  • Scraping
  • Word2Vec
  • Semantic Search
  • Rule based Matching

Figma Plugin

We provide a Figma plugin that can be used to convert the posts that are found to use the posts for workshops or similar.


  • Figma Plugin

Web App

For manual selection of filtered posts, we developed a web tool that allows importing the analyzed comments and quickly finding posts from lead users by highlighting the keyword.


  • Web-App
  • Figma Prototype

The Project

This project is a Master thesis written @hfg schwäbisch Gmünd.

Marius Schnabel

Studied interaction design at the Schwäbisch Gmünd University of Applied Sciences and received his bachelor's degree in March 2020. In his bachelor thesis he dealt with sea rescue in the Arctic. Together with his colleague Sebastian Schmid, he developed a concept that is intended to function transnationally for sea rescue. Important hurdles for communication and the organization of resources should be removed. The goal of the work was to support the cooperation of the countries and to better prepare them for the consequences of climate change.

Josh Cornau

Studied Internet of Things - Design of Networked Systems at the Schwäbisch Gmünd University of Applied Sciences. He graduated with a bachelor's degree in February 2020. In his bachelor thesis he dealt with the mediation of e-mobility. Together with fellow student Felix Hirner, he developed a concept that allows people to test whether an e-vehicle suits their individual driving habits. Factors such as charging options, their utilization and the required range were taken into account.